“I found myself,” Maggie Rogers sings on her major-label debut, “when I was going everywhere.” In 2016, Rogers played her song “Alaska” for Pharrell Williams at an NYU undergraduate seminar. A video of the performance went viral, resulting in a major-label deal, an EP and a sold-out headlining tour all within a year of graduation. And so, the 24-year-old spends her first proper album making sense of what it means to be Maggie Rogers after skyrocketing into a peculiar form of semi-stardom. At its core, Heard It In a Past Life is a collection of self-searching moments: miniature mental flashbulbs of realization from a young adult striving to adjust to the swiftly shifting world around her.
Rogers has a rare knack for dramatizing and finding beauty in these flashes, and for making them into three-minute pop songs. Rogers wrote, co-produced and arranged nearly all of the album’s 12 tracks, which play like a carefully crafted pseudo-concept-album song cycle: turmoil and reflection in the first half, love and hard-won resolution in the second. The songs, which draw on muscular pop rock, synth-driven electro pop and Seventies singer-songwriter piano balladry, reflect Rogers’ wide-reaching tastes. She nods to forebears like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell as readily as she references contemporaries like Haim, Jack Antonoff, Taylor Swift.
Because some of these tracks were released and recorded as early as 2016, Heard It In a Past Life is a chronicle of Rogers’ development as a singer-songwriter. The evolution of those tracks — from the sparse electro-folk origins of the oldest songs like “Alaska” and “On+Off” to the grand, Eighties-inspired, Greg Kurstin-produced bombast of “The Knife” and “Retrograde” —mirrors the story of perpetual self-change that Rogers is narrating throughout.
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Rogers never once loses sight of that story on Heard It In a Past Life, and the result is a laser-focused statement with nary a wasted lyric or synth line. “People change/Overnight,” she sings early on, offering a test run of the album’s central premise: “Things get strange/But I’m all right.”